Rescued horses will get a little care and attention from an unlikely source thanks to a new equine impound facility at Lee Arrendale State Prison in Alto.
"We're an agency of second chances and third chances," Corrections Commissioner Brian Owens said Thursday at a ribbon cutting for the facility.
"Obviously, we believe in redemption opportunities for our inmates — male or female — but I think if you take a look at the female profile in the prison system you find out that many came from abused, neglected and otherwise violent backgrounds."
While the horses benefit from the care, inmates also are provided valuable opportunities to work while incarcerated and prepare themselves for life outside prison. Through the program, inmates can become certified as a veterinary assistant and animal caregiver.
"I think it's a unique opportunity for these women to bond with the horses ... so it's an opportunity to really make a difference in another life — it just happens to be a horse's life," Owens said.
Georgia Department of Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black also attended the ceremony for the facility, which is the second of its kind in the state and began operation four months ago.
"We find abandoned horses and we have responsibility under Georgia law to help care for those horses and try to find a home," Black said.
A similar facility opened in October 2008 at Pulaski State Prison is Hawkinsville, and Black said he hopes the Arrendale facility opening will lead to even more.
"I think there's a great opportunity to replicate this," he said. "It makes a lot more sense to work with these other partners to make it a whole lot more successful."
Last year, the statewide impound program rescued 139 horses. Arrendale's impound, Black said, will be capable of treating dozens of horses each year.
The length of time a horse remains at a rehabilitation facility depends on the severity of its condition.
"Sometimes it might be three months, sometimes it might be a six-month period based upon the condition of the horses when they arrive at a facility," Black said.
Inmates agreed the program will be beneficial to them and said they are fortunate to have the opportunity.
"Although it is a challenge, it is not a chore," Iona Curry said. "We look forward to coming out here each and every day, and it is a blessing for us to be able to give something back to the community while we are incarcerated."
Working with horses was new to the women, Curry said, but it has since become a passion.
"Before coming to this detail, none of us knew much about horses," Curry said. "Our detail officer Capt. (Dennis) Gallman has shown us how much time, work and dedication is required to care for horses."
President of the Georgia Equine Rescue League Patty Livingston said breeders are to blame for the increase in neglected horses.
"There are 9.2 million horses in the United States," she said. "We have a horse problem. There's too much breeding going on."